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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Conservative Party sends signal to members on open nominations

OTTAWA - Conservative Party brass are holding a hard line on their promise of open nominations before the 2015 election, proposing disqualifications in one high-profile riding and placing a senior official on leave in another.

On Wednesday, rank-and-file members in Alberta were informed that a member of the party's governing council would be stepping away from her post while her husband runs for nomination.

Marilyn Elliott will be on a leave of absence while party organizer Gord Elliott makes his bid to carry the party banner in the riding of Calgary Rocky Ridge for the next election. Elliott will be going up against former Canadian Alliance MP Eric Lowther.

"The Conservative Party of Canada is committed to fair and open nominations in all 338 electoral districts across the country," wrote national council secretary Michael Lauer in an email obtained by The Canadian Press.

"To ensure there are no perceived or actual conflicts of interest with nominations, national councillors with immediate family members seeking the party's nomination are required to take a leave of absence until the conclusion of the nomination contest."

The announcement comes months after the party had to grapple with another issue of alleged favouritism involving former executive director Dimitri Soudas and his fiancee, MP Eve Adams. Adams is in a pitched battle for the nomination in the Toronto-area riding of Oakville North-Burlington.

That case continues to make waves inside the party. A senior source said that party officials are recommending that both Adams and her nomination rival Natalia Lishchyna, an Oakville chiropractor, be disqualified from running.

Adams' team had been accused of paying for the memberships of supporters, alleged donations that are illegal under the Elections Act. Adams in turn has accused Lishchyna of improperly using data research firms to phone members at home.

The party's National Candidate Selection Committee has the final say in such matters. The committee has no set date to decide on the issue. The candidates would have an opportunity to appeal any decision to the national council.

Party president John Walsh said he would not discuss internal party matters, but underlined the party's commitment to a fair nomination process.

Earlier this year, the party admonished incumbent Calgary MP Rob Anders' campaign for making misleading phone calls ahead of the nomination. Anders wound up losing the nomination to former Alberta cabinet minister Ron Liepert.

There have been a few other close races. MP David Tilson narrowly won his nomination in the Ontario riding of Dufferin-Caledon in late May.

So far, the Tories have nominated approximately half of the 338 candidates for the next general election. The rest are expected to be finalized in the fall.

The NDP and the Liberals have also promised to hold open nominations, with no protection for incumbent MPs.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has faced criticism, however, for intervening to block a candidate from running in a Toronto byelection because of alleged intimidation and bullying. Christine Innes is now suing Trudeau for defamation.

Paul Manly, the son of former NDP MP Jim Manly, has criticized the New Democrats for blocking his nomination in a Vancouver Island riding. Manly alleges it was based on comments he has made on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The party says the matter is confidential.

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